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Hugo Munsterberg's Contributions to Psychology

Hugo Munsterberg's Contributions to Psychology
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  • 0:04 Profiling the Criminal Element
  • 0:54 The Growth of Psychology
  • 1:57 Profiling Criminals and Juries
  • 3:00 The Psychology of Work
  • 3:43 Body and Mind
  • 4:52 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Gaines Arnold
Many psychologists have added to the base knowledge of psychology, but few have done as much as Hugo Münsterberg. This lesson discusses his work in applied psychology with relation to work, the legal field, and psychotherapy.

Profiling the Criminal Element

How many TV shows dedicate themselves to different aspects of forensics? From CSI to cable shows such as The First 48, many programs demonstrate how police and examiners are able to locate evidence and use it to garner a conviction.

A subset of these programs show how a profiler works and the cues they use to get an image or type of who the perpetrator is. Criminal Minds fictionalizes the work of FBI profilers in their work against an array of criminals, especially serial killers.

These shows spring from the work of psychologists who have demonstrated that it is possible to use cues from the evidence to build an image of a person. This work was begun by a German-American psychologist by the name of Hugo Münsterberg (1863 - 1916).

The Growth of Psychology

Psychology had, for more than a thousand years, been the realm of philosophers. They observed people's behaviors and formed logical impressions (a process called anecdotal evidence) regarding why people acted the way they do.

However, a group of scientists, many of whom were trained as physicians, wanted psychology to break away from philosophy. They contended that psychological evidence could be gathered via experimentation, a process of gathering empirical evidence.

Unfortunately, these same scientists were not interested in how their discoveries would affect other people as a means of improving mental health, they were after the purely scientific foundations of cognition and behavior. That is until Hugo Münsterberg demonstrated that psychology could have a practical purpose also.

Münsterberg was one of the founders of applied psychology. He believed that there was worth to humankind in the discoveries that psychologists were making. Throughout his career he worked to demonstrate that psychological principles could be used as an aid in a variety of industries.

Profiling Criminals and Juries

Münsterberg first applied the science of psychology to legal matters. He called it forensic psychology. He realized that if he could examine an individual, whether in a counseling session or remotely, he could determine some of that individual's motivations. He used this knowledge in legal proceedings to prove the value of a forensic psychologist.

He first experimented with witness testimony to prove how unreliable it was. He asked university students to examine an event and write their impressions of it. When he had gathered several of these individual accounts, he was able to show how disparate were the impressions of the different students. In 1908 he published On the Witness Stand, which talks about psychological factors affecting trial outcomes and the inherent problems with false confessions and interrogations.

He was also one of the first psychologists to work with lawyers in jury selection. He demonstrated how he could tell how a jury would vote based on the makeup of the members. But the legal profession was just the beginning.

The Psychology of Work

Hugo Münsterberg realized, with his successes in the legal field, that other fields were just as susceptible to psychological inquiry. What motivates people to work? What is job satisfaction and can it be quantified? Is it possible to use psychological methods to make workers more efficient?

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